August 04, 2006

Leveraging Social Networks Facebook, MySpace, Xanga, Friendster, Flickr and other social networks are creating a generation of self-branding experts who will see, hear and filter messages differently than ever before. Millions of young people are creating, maintaining and manipulating their personal brands everyday online. They decide which images to show, which friends to feature, which notes to post, which people to exclude and shape the ways others perceive them. In a perpetual digital high school environment where clicks rule and people are conscious of how, when and why they are sorted into segments (jocks, nerds, freaks, sorority girls), managing and protecting your brand becomes a daily task like brushing your teeth or checking your e-mail. People with profiles on social networks also understand that they are routinely being scrutinized and evaluated as potential friends, dates, interns, employees, audience members or sales prospects. So they consciously present themselves in ways that influence which things they are sorted into and which they are sorted out of. On top of their usual online moxie, profile managers are looking shape how they are sorted, filtered and segmented. They are simultaneously selling and persuading while they evade and escape those seeking to sell them. Add this hands-on brand management experience to the existing well-developed opt-in mentality and you are looking at a generation extremely marketing savvy civilians able to filter and discriminate between marketing messages with ease across multiple channels. Talking to the seasoned, skeptical Facebook crowd requires a marketing agility and an understanding of segmentation that is exponentially richer than the expectations we have today. Putting up one video on YouTube will probably not appeal to a mass audience. In fact, before you place anything on these networks you need to forecast who will rally to it and who will reject it. Establishing a product or brand driven group will empower some segments and repulse others. If you are lucky enough to capture the imagination of online activists, you could have one friend send your message to 500 others. The prospect of a low-cost, highly targeted viral effect will bring many consumer brands into this space. Yet the number of misses will surely exceed the number of hits. The number and variety of segments and messages we prepare for in a typical campaign must dramatically increase because a brand has to consider its voice, tone and manner as it addresses many discrete and discriminating customer segments. Brands have to think harder, get closer to their customers and respect the conventions and sensibilities of each network. MySpace makes micro-targeting of messages and media a mandate.
Becoming a Trusted Advisor How many trusted advisors can anybody have? You have a best friend, a spouse or partner, a favorite sibling, a parent, a clergyman or a wise old rich uncle. And then you have specialists, your cousin the computer-stereo-digital camera nerd, your neighbor the sports equipment nut or your officemate the restaurant and travel maven. Most of us rarely lack for opinions and advice. So what does a stranger -- a lawyer, accountant, doctor, financial planner, architect, insurance agent, stock broker, art dealer, contractor, hair dresser, mechanic, personal stylist, tailor or decorator – have to do win access, trust and a recurring role? Marketing personal and professional services requires aligning the business proposition with the knowledge, expectations and psycho-demographics of the target population. The relationship begins by grabbing our attention. The classic ways are by being referred by somebody we already trust, by grabbing our attention, by telling us something significant we didn’t already know, by offering us a free service sample or by wowing us with performance. In spite of many new marketing approaches and an explosion of new media, these tried and true techniques are the best way to sell services. An initial interaction opens the way for professionals to present their value proposition and outline their service offerings. In most cases, we either already have the service and they need to switch our loyalty or we don’t think we need the service, in which case they have to switch our perspective. Here’s how several of these would-be advisors approached me. The Miracle Result. I met a friend at a party. She looked transformed, amazing and ten years younger. As it turned out it was the haircut. And even though few haircutters can make none look like some it was the ultimate referral. We looked at the friend and calculated what Pierra could do us. Her trusted advisor became our family haircutter. The Squawking Referral. My wife’s friend started a business and enjoyed a rush of early success. We were bemoaning how high New York tax rates were and she gushed about her accountant. Not only did he save her a bundle, avoid an audit and re-engineered how she did her business, he was our age, had our sensibilities and was in our demo. He lived in the right place, knew the right people and had an office nearby. Presto we changed horses. Delivering on Expectations. My long-standing internist (of blessed memory) died. I needed a new doctor; someone who would proactively address my issues. Even after limiting the search to those on my network, there are a million doctors in the naked city. I got a referral from my most hypochondriac friend – the kind of person that only knows “big” doctors and memorizes the annual “best doctors” list. She pointed me to Alice, who instantly delivered on my expectations. She looked, acted and talked like she’d always been the smartest girl in the class. And she had the pedigree and diplomas to prove it. She referred to medical stories in the Wall Street Journal. She took my history, looked at the labs and laid out a treatment plan that aligned both with my fears and with what I am actually willing to do. Subsequently I found out that ten people I know go to her and swear by her. I’ve referred 5 more. The Freebie. I never knew about pedicures. I owned a toe nail clipper. I never imagined I needed a pedicure. In my mind it was a girl’s indulgence thing. The only time I saw the inside of a nail salon was on Seinfeld until Babs showed up at our door. She is the nail stylist to the stars, a friend of a friend, and the professional that New York’s leading hotels call when a VIP needs cuticle coverage. She brought all her own stuff and did my feet while I sat on my living room couch watching a ballgame. It was the most amazing new experience I’ve had this year. I became an instant metrosexual, bought a new pair of flip flops to show off my toes and I e-mailed all my friends with an introductory discount offer from her. The Insightful Analysis. As a marketer I’m leery about anything purporting to be a free analysis. I know every way to configure a survey, study or analytic tool to create a lead generation campaign. When my insurance agent retired, I agreed to let a new guy look at my policies. It was a revelation....

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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